Jurich talks UofL dimissal, Pitino firing and his future
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – In a two-part interview with fired athletic director Tom Jurich, he talks about his exit from the university and no question was off limits.
Jurich also revealed news about Rick Pitino’s future with the school. It wasn’t good months before the FBI investigation was known to anyone in Louisville.
Here’s part one of my conversation with Jurich.
Doug Proffitt: At a dinner with Dr. Postel, did he ask you to fire Rick Pitino?
Jurich: No, he did not. We talked about Coach Pitino but he did not ask me.
Doug Proffitt: What did he say about Coach Pitino?
Jurich: That stays between us.
Doug Proffitt: Did you get a sense that these guys wanted the coach gone?
Jurich: I think they were moving that way but that was something that I was in favor of at the time but it never escalated to anything like that.
Doug Proffitt: And that dinner was in July?
Jurich: Yes, July
Doug Proffitt: So, in July you had a feeling they wanted Rick Pitino out?
Jurich: It's fair to say it that way. I just felt that they had discomfort with him and a couple of board members did.
Doug Proffitt: Was it discomfort to the point that they wanted him gone immediately?
Jurich: No, this would have been long term.
The timing is notable. It means that 3 months after the university had its hearings in front of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in Cincinnati, U of L was telling Jurich they didn't see Pitino in the job in the future. Something Jurich revealed for the first time.
I also asked him about Pitino's new comment to Terry Meiners about a board meeting he was to attend, also in July.
Pitino said, “Tom asked me to go to a board meeting and when I walked out of there, I knew they didn’t want me. I told my players don’t' even jaywalk in downtown Louisville because this board does not want me here.”
Doug Proffitt: He said, “They don’t want me here. Did you feel that?
Jurich: I think I did. I would agree with him on that.
Doug Proffitt: Did you think the board didn't want you there either?
Jurich: No, I never felt that.
That July dinner between Jurich and the interim U of L President Dr. Greg Postel also came 3 months before the FBI investigation into recruiting would shock the school.
Board chairman David Grissom said this to reporters, “I went home and told my wife you can’t make this stuff up.”
Jurich was in Washington when the story broke.
Doug Proffitt: What went through your mind when you heard that?
Jurich: Great disappointment. Something we don’t' need to be involved with.
Doug Proffitt: Disappointed in who?
Jurich: The entire program. That we would be involved in something like that. We don't need to. You're at Louisville. I’m not proclaiming guilt on anybody, no one’s been charged, but I think the evidence is probably pretty strong or the FBI wouldn't be involved.
Doug Proffitt: Did you ever consider firing Rick Pitino over the past few weeks or the past few months?
Jurich: If I would have known that he did something – was guilty of something, I would have – I would have dealt with it then. But I had no evidence. I point blank asked him, looked him in the eye [and said], ‘Did you have anything do with this?’ He said absolutely not.
Doug Proffitt: Did you believe him?
Jurich: He looked me right in the eye said absolutely not. You've always backed him. yep. I back all my coaches. I hire them. I don’t put them in and say sink or swim. If I bring them in I want them to know I have the resources of Tom Jurich behind them. I want them to be successful.
Doug Proffitt: Did your strong loyalty to Rick Pitino do you in, did he take you down?
Jurich: I wouldn't look at it that way.
Doug Proffitt: Why not?
Jurich: I think it’s too easy to blame people. We had a great run here 20 fabulous years, Rick part of it for 16 years. Brought a lot of great memories to University. I don’t want to point fingers.
For the interview, he wore the shirt supporting the ACC and the Cardinals people are used to seeing him in, and he told me he’s not leaving Louisville, “My passion is always going to be for the University of Louisville. I love this city.”
In his house, Jurich's family is prominent over the fireplace.
The basement has the U of L memories. He shows the day he was introduced to fans at Freedom Hall and photos of better times with Rick Pitino.
Doug Proffitt: What is it in you that you are able to stay friends with someone who has gotten you in so much controversy?
Jurich: I think it is just who I am. I don't think Rick ever went out to do anything to harm me, and I to this day don’t believe he would.
Doug Proffitt: You’re the leader of the department and then the scandal and then FBI investigation. At any point, did you feel your department was out of control?
Jurich: Never once.
Doug Proffitt: That you didn't have control over it?
Jurich: I always had control of that program. Always did. Went 18 years and never had a blemish.
One day after U of L confirmed it was part of the FBI investigation, Jurich was called to the administration building Wednesday, September 27th
Doug Proffitt: did you know what was going to happen?
Jurich: I had no idea, not at all.
Doug Proffitt: Who was in that meeting what did they say to you when you came in?
Jurich: Postel and Grissom.
Doug Proffitt: What was the conversation?
Jurich: It was about a minute long. They were going to go in a different direction and I was going on suspension. Gave me a letter and I left.
Doug Proffitt: Did they let you know you were going to be fired later?
One month later, three days shy of his 20th anniversary, Jurich was fired. 10-3, was the vote.
Doug Proffitt: That vote was shown LIVE; did you watch it?
Jurich: I haven’t' seen any media for thirty days, no newspapers, anything, I felt that was not the space for me to be in.
The letter from the school firing him was blistering.
Doug Profitt: They called you a bully.
Jurich: That is offensive. That is offensive.
Doug Proffitt: The term is offensive?
Doug Proffitt: Did you get upset when people would disparage the program?
Jurich: Anybody would. It is your program, you don't want people taking shots at you.
Doug Proffitt: What about the loyalists, on the Crum side?
Jurich: That is to be expected. that is to be expected. That was a difficult situation.
Doug Proffitt: Do you think the term bully comes to your loyalty that you expect from people around there and if you don't get it you react in an intimidating manner?
Jurich: I never saw that. I always try to treat people with a respectful manner, utmost respect anywhere in any way in life. I always believe you treat others the way you want to be treated.
Doug Proffitt: Why did they call you a bully?
Jurich: Well it’s just one person calling me that and I certainly had no issues with him that he would ever be able to say that but it’s an offensive term. Very offensive.
The $160 million Adidas deal was negotiated by Jurich. The school's interim president said he had no knowledge of it until it was cut and wished he had known more.
Jurich says, “I think saying nobody knew anything about it is preposterous, baffling, mind-boggling.
Jurich addresses letter to Dr. Postel, criticism of athletics department
The fired athletic director apologizes for the university's recent controversies
Doug Proffitt: Does anybody need to say, “I’m sorry” to the fans, the coaches, [and] the students?
Jurich: I’ll say it. Sure, I’ll be the first to say it. I don’t want anybody to go through any of this – don’t want to go through it myself but it is. It’s reality, so you deal with it.
Doug Proffitt: So you want to say it?
Jurich: I do. I am sorry.
Doug Proffitt: Is it reasonable in your mind in any way that the board came to the conclusion that you were no longer effective as a leader of that department?
Jurich: That I can’t answer. I wasn’t apart of those meetings. It’s a new board. I think it’s foreign to everybody around the campus but I will always say I’m a standup guy – take things straight on and the buck stops with me.
The Board of Trustees is new but it has one powerful, well-known member who may have sealed Jurich’s fate after 20 years.
Doug Proffitt: When I say the name John Schnatter, what runs through your mind?
Jurich: I’m very appreciative of what he’s done. For 19 and a half years, I thought I had a great relationship with John.
Doug Proffitt: The moment he said in that meeting that was so widely covered that Tom’s invisible. Fix athletics and you’ll fix the university.
Jurich: I didn’t understand that, I really didn’t. I still, to this day, don’t understand that. No one in my department of the community would think I’m invisible. I never went to the Board of Trustees meetings because I was never asked to. I was told by previous three of four presidents, don’t go to these. You report to the Athletic Association – you go to those meetings. I’ve never missed an Athletic Association meeting.
Doug Proffitt: That must have hurt when Schnatter said you were invisible.
Jurich: We were coming back from the Air Force Academy and when we landed, my phone had blown up. I was shocked. I can’t lie to you, I was shocked.
Doug Proffitt: Did you call him up and say, “John, what’s going on here?”
Jurich: No, I don’t know – never talked to him about it.
Doug Proffitt: Well that was a shot right at you.
Jurich: There’s been a lot of shots at me, let’s face it – but that’s part of the deal. I’ve got to take them.
In early September, still on the job, Jurich wrote a pointed letter to U of L's general counsel and copied Greg Postel.
Doug Proffitt: You're taking a shot at him.
Jurich: I'm not taking a shot at him. It was very disappointing. Everybody around the country is celebrating it and I thought maybe our university could too and it was just a handful of people who didn't.
After replacing Jurich, Postel said he didn't want anything to do with Adidas if the deal was tainted by the FBI investigation. After a review, acting athletic director Vince Tyra cleared Jurich's work, saying he saw nothing negative with it.
Jurich: Their own attorneys wrote the deal, who are housed in that office.
Doug Proffitt: Was Postel involved in it? Maybe that's why he's saying he knew nothing?
Jurich: Certainly he would be very aware of it?
Doug Proffitt: Why are they saying that as one of the reasons they fired you?
Jurich: I think they are saying a lot of things.
The letter of dismissal says when U of L looked for written evaluations of coaches, they found not one for well over 10 years.
Jurich: I evaluate my coaches 24/7, 365 days a year.
Doug Proffitt: You did it verbally?
Jurich: I do it anytime I need to. My coaches know that I had a handle with them and they knew they could come to me for support.
Doug Proffitt: So written evaluations weren't done?
Jurich: No, I didn't do written evaluations. Never in my 32 years as an AD. I’ve never done them.
Doug Proffitt: Did you think it was necessary to have a trail of things?
Jurich: Why do you need a trail? You only need a trail if you are trying to get rid of people. I hire people so they’ll be successful. I try to prop them up. I want them to come in and enjoy their jobs and have the same passion that I have. To me, the evaluation is when you hire somebody -- that's when you evaluate somebody.
Criticism of nepotism arose as Jurich’s son Mark got a job in the athletic department and his daughter recently landed a full-time position with Adidas.
Jurich: He came and was paid out of the president’s office, not allowed to be supervised by me – that’s the only nepotism law there was.
Doug Proffitt: You didn’t say “Jim, my son would be great of this job?”
Jurich: No, he was entry level. He grew into the role and does a spectacular job and nobody is tougher on any employee than I am on my son.
At age 61, he's been paid a total of nearly $20 million over the past 7 years. He was four years away from collecting a 3-million-dollar incentive if he were still on the job at age 65. He's now fighting for a contract that would have run until 2026. A contract with bonuses and many expenses paid.
Jurich: I never did. I felt I was earning every penny. I was trying to bring in all kind of extra revenue for the university. I always tried to be a bargain for the university. I would hope that people would think that.
Doug Proffitt: Let's go back to the beginning of trouble. Should Jim Ramsey be in jail?
Doug Proffitt: Why?Jurich: I don't know of anything he did wrong. He was an effective leader, he didn't micromanage us. He let us do our jobs.
Doug Proffitt: You are not fighting to get your job back?
Jurich: Nope. You don't want to be somewhere you are not wanted. If the president doesn't want you there, it's not a real comfortable place to be so we'll move on and remember all the good thoughts and go forward.
Jurich says he won't leave Louisville and will keep it as his home base. And the one thing that has surprised him the most since being let go?
Doug Proffitt: You say UK fans have been coming up to you.
Doug Proffitt: What are they saying to you?Jurich: Wonderful job, great career -- nice things.
Doug Proffitt: Not glad you're leaving?Jurich: I've heard that too, in a very complimentary way they've said that.
Jurich still proudly wears his Cardinal gear. His contract gave him football and basketball tickets for life. It's all now in dispute with possibly millions more on the line for U of L.
Jurich: It's uhhh -- I love the Cardinals. You can't do this for 20 years with these coaches and kids and just throw it all away, I'm not going to do that. It means too much to me.
Jurich names toughest moment of UofL tenure
Another man forced out of his job into retirement, who complained about his treatment by the school and Jurich is former coach Denny Crum.
Jurich talked about Crum a couple of times in WHAS11’s exclusive interview. He called it the toughest moment of his tenure, but one that honored a contract in the end.
In the basement of Tom Jurich's house are the reminders of his 20 years as UofL's athletic director.
WHAS11’s Doug Proffitt asked Jurich about all the controversies he faced while at UofL, what was his toughest moment was.
Jurich: Well, the hardest was coach Crum because he was a legend. nobody wants to deal with that. Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, boy, I can't wait to get up and replace a hall of fame coach. It’s very difficult. It was necessary, a move we had to make. The most difficult one. I wish that we never had to do that.
In Interim President Greg Postel’s letter firing Jurich from UofL, the university accused Jurich of being a bully to people in student government and the school's leaders.
Doug Proffitt: Do you think the term bully comes back to your loyalty, that you expect from people around there and if you don't get it you react in an intimidating manner?
Jurich: I never saw that. I always try to treat people with the utmost respect, anywhere, in any way in life. I always believe you treat others the way you want to be treated.
Doug Proffitt: Why did they call you a bully?
Jurich: Well, it’s just one person calling me that and I certainly had no issues with him that he would ever be able to say that but it’s an offensive term. Very offensive.
Since 2001, when Crum was pushed to retire, Jurich was also criticized by fans of Crum, and Crum's own wife, for not treating the coach well after he retired.
Sixteen years ago, Jurich and Crum became embroiled in a public spat over his forced retirement that ended, as WHAS11 and others reported back then "after weeks of sniping with the athletic director."
Doug Proffitt: The biggest fight on change you had what was it?
Jurich: Probably coach Crum. I think everybody recognized it was time to do it. Just nobody wanted to do it and that’s a credit to him and that’s why I’ll never take anything away from him.
Doug Proffitt: You brought that up several times. Do you think you handled that one badly?
Jurich: No, no I don’t think there’s any way else I could have handled it.
Crum's exit may have been messy but he was guaranteed $7 million by the university when President John Shumaker worked the final deal with Jurich and the coach. They gave him the $2 million left on his contract and paid him $5 million over the next 15 years to be a consultant to the school.
In September 2017, UofL told Crum it was not renewing the deal as the school cut back on costs.
Right after Jurich was fired, Crum became a calming figure. Showing up next to Acting Coach David Padgett at the school's first red-white public scrimmage in the Yum! Center and then appearing with other alumni and the current Men’s Basketball team in a group photo.
Doug Proffitt: Is there a message, today, you’d like to send him?
Jurich: I talk to both of them, when I see them, very congenial to both of them.
Doug Proffitt: Are you surprised by the blowback that still comes your way?
Jurich: No, because he's been here long. He has friend friends take care of their own friends. I understand that.